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Abseiling from the summit of Sasser Kangri II to the last bivouac
Photo by Steve Swenson
Nejc Marčič and Luka Stražar and, in the background, the K7 West (6934m) Charakusa valley, (Karakoram, Himalaya).
Photo by Expedition Charakusa 2011
Meru. The Shark's Fin is the immense pillar on the right.
Photo by Meru Eleven
Venas Azules, Torre Egger, Patagonia.
Photo by archivio Bjørn-Eivind Årtun
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Piolet d'Or 2012, the 6 nominations

14.02.2012 by Planetmountain

The XX Piolet d'Or will take place in Courmayeur (Italy) and Chamonix (France) from 21 - 24 March 2012. Here are the 6 nominations for the coveted golden ice axe, while Frenchman Robert Paragot will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award.

The 6 nominations for the Piolet d'Or immediately start with some pain: Bjørn-Eivind Årtun, nominated together with Ole Lied for their beautiful Venas Azules up Torre Egger in Patagonia, will not be there. As everyone knows, the talented Norwegian alpinist lost his life last week along with climbing partner Stein-Ivar Gravdal while attempting to forge a new line up the steep Kjerag mountain face. One could argue that this too forms a part of alpinism... but this clearly does nothing to alleviate the pain. What is certain is that there will be a special memorial for Bjørn-Eivind Årtun during this 20th Piolet d'Or. And in there limelight there will also be Robert Paragot, the French alpinist who will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award after Bonatti, Messner and Scott. This award recognises Paragot's climbs which started out in Fontainebleau (in perfect stile Bleausard style), continued in the Alps (above all with Lucien Bérardini) and the Greater Ranges with the first ascent of the South Face of Aconcagua (1953), an ascent of Jannu (1962), the first ascent of the North Face of Huascarán and an expedition to Makalu in 1971.

True to the recent editions of the "golden ice axe", this year's nominations were all carried out in alpine style and by extremely "lightweight" expeditions. 2012 marks the presence (and return after years of absence) of Patagonia with the vertiginous new route established last December by Bjørn-Eivind Årtun and Ole Lied up Torre Egger. And it is worth noting that there are two American teams as well as two Slovenian teams. The first USA expedition, formed by Conrad Anker, Renan Ozturk and Jimmy Chin, carried out a great first ascent up Meru Peak (6310m, India) via a strikingly beautiful line which tackles different terrain (6A, A4, WI5, M6). The second USA expedition is comprised of Mark Richey, Steve Swenson and Freddy Wilkinson, nominated for their route up the East Face ofSaser Kangri II (7518m, India), a "great" mountain which the three confronted via a totally involving adventure.

The first Slovenian team includes young Luka Strazar and Nejc Marcic and it is worth underlining that during their first Himalayan experience they hit the bulls eye by breaching the hitherto unclimbed west face of K7 (6858m, Pakistan). A mountain which, if you wish, has become the symbol of the "new alpine style" thanks to Stevie House and Marko Prezelj. Strazar and Marcic will be joined by their fellow countrymen Ales Holc, Peter Juvan and Igor Kremser for their first ascent up the NW Face of Xueliang Feng in China.

The list of 6 finalists is completed with the new route up Pic Pobeda, the great (7439m high) and cold mountain in Kirghizistan established by Karzakh climbers Denis Urubko and Gennady Durov. Their route is called Dollar Road and the line was a dream which had remained elusive for years and which has already won the Piolet d'Or Asia 2011 (Urubko's 2nd) and which sees Urubko in the limelight once again with three nominations and one "victory" in 2010 with Boris Dedechko for their route up Cho Oyu.

What remains to be said it that the jury, which chose these 6 nominees out of a list of 81 different climbs, is certainly extremely authoritative. It includes American Michael Kennedy (editor of Alpinist) as Jury President, and the alpinists Valeri Babanov, Alberto Inurrategi, Ines Papert, Liu Yong as well as the expert journalist Alessandro Filippini. Having said that, allow us to express our surprise at not seeing the first winter ascent of GII as a candidate. Carried out by Simone Moro, Denis Urubko (once again) and Cory Richard, it might be argues that the Himalayan giants no longer hold the same fascination as a while ago, but that first winter ascent, carried out in that impeccable style, certainly deserved more. Even if one needs to add that, just as certainly, those nominated are all great ascents.

The stage is set for the Piolet d'Or, scheduled to take place in Courmayeur and Chamonix from 21 - 24 March. The winners of the Piolet d'Or 2012 will be announced on 24 March at Courmayeur during the evening celebration.

THE SIX ASCENTS NOMINATED FOR THE 20th PIOLETS D'OR
Pik Pobeda (7,439m), Kyrgyzstan
Pik Pobeda is the most northerly 7,000-metre peak in the world. A high altitude symbol for mountaineers on the Asian continent, its steep and exposed north face is 2,500 metres high. Kazakhs Gennadiy Durov and Denis Urubko added a fourth route to the central and highest part of this face, below the summit. Dollar Rod is a committing and technical route undertaken in alpine style, a modern feat. Last November it was awarded the sixth Asian Piolets d’Or.
- Pik Pobeda and Peak Prezhevalskogo, new routes in Kyrgystan for Urubko, Durov and Dedeshko

Saser Kangri II (7,518m), India
Americans Mark Richey, Steve Swenson and Freddie Wilkinson’s expedition to the Indian Karakoram is another example from 2011 of exploration and committed alpine style at high altitude. During a two month expedition, the three alpinists summited the second highest, previously unclimbed mountain in the world, Saser Kangri II. The team reached the summit on 24th August via the steep 1,700 metre south-west face, after four days of ascent and three bivouacs. The route’s technical difficulties are concentrated in the higher part of the climb.
- Saser Kangri II first ascent by Richey, Swenson and Wilkinson

K7 West (6,615m), Pakistan
Young Slovenians Nejc Marcic and Luka Strazar, 26 and 23 years old respectively, reached the west summit of K7 in a three-day alpine style ascent of the previously unclimbed north-west face via a 1,600m sustained mixed route, completing the third ascent of this famous summit in the Charakusa valley. Exploration, technical difficulty, minimalist style and commitment are the characteristics of their ascent. It was their first Himalayan expedition.
- Super slovenian new route on K7

Xuelian North-East (6,249m), China
Xuelian North-East was the last remaining unclimbed 6,000m peak in the Xuelian Feng, in the Chinese Tien Shan. Slovenians Ales Holc, Peter Juvan and Igor Kremser climbed it in pure alpine style, taking the long and aesthetic north-west ridge over four days, and then descending on the south-east side in a day and a half. The technical difficulty and length of this route, climbed in minimalist style, caught the attention of the jury.
- Slovenians make first ascent of Xuelian North-East, China

Meru Central (6,310m), India
Attempted by many expeditions since 1986, this incredible route on the east pillar of Meru Central – the Shark’s Fin – was climbed in its entirety for the first time by Americans Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk. This particularly aesthetic route has all the difficulties of modern alpinism; rocky terrain involving difficult free climbing and committing aid climbing, and delicate mixed terrain in the upper section.
- Meru Shark's Fin, success for Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk

Torre Egger (2,850m), Argentina
The Patagonian spires have always lured the best technical climbers on the planet. A distant land ravaged by the southern winds, its granite peaks covered in the strangest of glacial formations. Rime and ice can cover the walls of these polished rocks, and sometimes coat them completely, depending on the wind direction. At the end of December the entire wall of Torre Egger’s south face was covered in ice. Norwegians Bjorn-Eivind Aartun and Ole Lied climbed this vertical tower taking the alpine community by surprise with their opportunism.
- Torre Egger, Norwegians climb new route in Patagonia

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